Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bad Moon Rising: The Crisis in Ciudad Juarez

Amazing stats in this article: 14 dead cops. At least 420 dead total. One city!

This was a good summary: "... the unresolved femicides, aggressions against residents of the Lomas de Poleo neighborhood, round-the-clock drug markets and the proliferation of thousands of illegally-imported cars as examples of unanswered wake up calls. “There is no government or authority capable of putting order to the situation,” Ortiz said.

by Frontra NorteSur
By last weekend, what began as a public safety crisis earlier this year had evolved into a broader political-economic one as well. Stirred in with the narco war are rising street crime and kidnappings for ransom, all of which creates a generalized sense of insecurity. Talk is emerging of a “Nuevo Laredo Effect.”

Posted on May 27, 2008
Known for its irreverent tone and sarcastic headlines, Ciudad Juarez’s Lapolaka.com news service summed up the mood in the border city: “Ciudad Juarez is out of control, and it is entering into a stage of collective hysteria and war this Friday.” The Internet news site was, of course, referring to a still-mysterious and widely-distributed e-mail that warned of extreme violence planned for Ciudad Juarez last weekend. In a city ravaged by seemingly endless killings connected to a war between rival drug cartels, many people took the advice of the e-mail seriously and stayed home. Business at bars and restaurants evaporated, a bull fight was canceled and a concert featuring what passes these days as the old US rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival was similarly given the no-go.

“Ciudad Juarez resembled a ghost town on Saturday afternoon and evening,” said journalism student Claudia Moreno Torres.

“I’ve never seen a crisis like this one before,” said Pascual Hernandez, a restaurant owner in the Avenida Juarez tourist district who counts 40 years in the business. By last weekend, what began as a public safety crisis earlier this year had evolved into a broader political-economic one as well. Restaurants, bars, hotels, pharmacies, and other businesses have reported losing between 20-70 percent of normal sales in recent days.

Leopoldina Aguirre Anchondo, executive director of the Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said 350 small businesses have shut their doors since the beginning of 2008. Stirred in with the narco war and rising street crime, kidnappings for ransom, which could exceed more than 40 cases this year so far, are creating a generalized sense of insecurity.

According to Jorge Pedroza Serrano, executive director of the Maquiladora Association, it was business as usual for the hundreds of export factories that supply the U.S. consumer market. “Our workers and employees can circulate throughout the different sections of the city with the certainty that their physical integrity is respected,” Serrano insisted. “The different police agencies are ready to make sure of that.”

Talk is emerging of a “Nuevo Laredo Effect” shaking Ciudad Juarez, in allusion to the narco war that devastated Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, several years ago, when pitched street battles that even included bazookas dried up tourism, shut down businesses and sent perhaps thousands fleeing across the border to Laredo, Texas. Already, prominent Juarenses are reported lying low in neighboring El Paso, Texas.

Last weekend’s events partially bore out the e-mail’s predictions. On Friday, a man was kidnapped in front of his 6-year-old daughter at the Plaza Juarez Mall. While no massacres occurred in bars or restaurants, 25 people were reported murdered gangland style in separate incidents between May 23 and 25. In a gruesome scene, the bodies of five men were found dumped between a church and maquiladora export plant. Two of the victims were decapitated, and a “narco-message” bearing the signature of “La Linea,” reportedly a group of corrupt policemen, was left as a warning to others. Early Sunday morning, arsonists torched the La Finca bar, Vaqueras y Broncos nightclub and a National Autos lot.

The latest slayings brought this year’s murder toll to at least 371 victims, a statistic which surpasses the homicide count of 316 for all of 2007. So many killings are taking place that bodies are stacking up in the city morgue. And this year’s murder roll doesn’t include the 46 bodies discovered in two clandestine graves. According to Jaime Hervella, director of the Association of Relatives and Friends of Disappeared Persons in El Paso, the bodies could have been buried from five to 10 years ago. Not one corpse has been publicly identified so far, Hervella said.

“Juarez has been lost to us,” shrugged Arturo Dominguez, president of the city public safety commission. “The crime rate comes from not paying attention. All of us, citizens, functionaries and businessmen, lost control of the city watching was happening on the corner but saying nothing. It is regrettable there is no order, but if we’ve lost control, we shouldn’t at least lose hope.”

Prominent residents of the city were buried during the bloody month of May. Longtime bar operator Willie Moya, who ran Hooligan’s, Vaqueras y Broncos, Frida’s, Tabasco’s, Arriba Chihuahua, Willy’s Country Disco and other clubs popular among both US and Mexican citizens, was gunned down outside one of his establishments. The 48-year-old Moya was called Ciudad Juarez’s “King Midas” by some members of the local community.

Former federal Congressman Carlos Camacho, who served as the Chihuahua state delegate for the Attorney General for Environmental Protection, was kidnapped by men possibly dressed as soldiers and strangled to death. Camacho was known by many environmental activists from both sides of the border for his fervent opposition to a nuclear waste dump that was planned for Sierra Blanca, Texas, during the 1990s.

Targeted by killers, police continued falling in the line of hostile gunfire. Two municipal policemen were gunned down May 24 near the Delicias substation, bringing to 14 the number of city cops slain this year so far.

On May 25, a new list of policemen targeted for death was discovered posted in Chihuahua City. Unlike the previous list which focused Ciudad Juarez municipal policemen, the latest one also puts state officers squarely in the aim of assassins.

Last weekend’s events, in which an anonymous e-mail triggered the partial shutdown of an industrial city of more than 1.3 million people, raised hotly-debated questions about media, cyberspace, government and the drug culture. The Spanish-language U.S. television network Univision reported that organized crime succeeded in bringing a city to its knees by means of an anonymous threat, but the truth of the matter is that no one is sure who was the author of the e-mail. Theories ranged from criminal gangs to social conservatives to a teenager playing a bad joke on the Internet.

Ricardo Ramirez Vela, president of the local branch of the Canirac restaurant industry association, floated a novel theory: “I don’t doubt that this (e-mail) could have come from people who have businesses in the United States and are trying to profit from what is happening in our city.”

Across the Rio Grande, the jolting e-mail and ongoing violence sparked an emotionally charged but intellectually challenged exchange on the El Paso Times web site. A contributor who claimed to have witnessed the aftermath of a recent execution offered a tip of practical advice to anyone visiting Ciudad Juarez. He advised motorists to keep their windows cracked and the radio tuned down so sounds of gunshots could be easily heard.

While some writers took the opportunity to explore issues like the connection between the consumption of illegal drugs in the United States and violence in Mexico, others used the forum as a platform to expound thinly-disguised racist attitudes toward Mexicans. Some called for closing the border, deploying U.S. troops, constructing a huge wall and firing Patriot missiles into Mexico. As one writer commented in response to the proposal for an artillery barrage, Patriot missiles are shot into the air at other missiles. Until now, Ciudad Juarez’s latest narco war has not spilled across the border into the U.S., though the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City cautioned citizens about visiting the city last weekend.

Many people questioned the actions of elected officials, law enforcement authorities and the federal government. Even as new bodies were piling up for processing in the city morgue, Chihuahua Gov. Jose Reyes Baeza and Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz flew off to a mass transportation conference in Bogota, Colombia. Mayor Reyes left the city in the hands of a retired military officer, former Major Roberto Orduna, who was appointed only days earlier and almost immediately faced a rebellion by a unit of officers complaining of unreasonably long work shifts.

Out of sight during Ciudad Juarez’s worst crisis in recent years, the mayor and the governor drew critical comments in the press. Both men cut short their trips only to return to a blood-soaked homeland.

Many citizens wonder what the army is really doing in their city. Since March, more than 3,000 federal troops and police have been dispatched to Ciudad Juarez as part of an officially-proclaimed campaign to quell violence and bring organized crime to heel, but the violence has only worsened since the federales put their boots on the ground. With trained troops supposedly on patrol, it’s not clear how groups of armed men can freely roam the streets executing victims in broad daylight and burning down buildings without at least one or two of the assailants getting caught.

Hernan Ortiz, spokesman for the Popular Independent Organization, said the current round of events wasn’t surprising in view of the impunity that is practically institutionalized. Ortiz cited the unresolved femicides, aggressions against residents of the Lomas de Poleo neighborhood, round-the-clock drug markets and the proliferation of thousands of illegally-imported cars as examples of unanswered wake up calls.

“There is no government or authority capable of putting order to the situation,” Ortiz said. “The crimes against women are also a point of reference that says everything about the existing problem.”

By the evening of May 25, some residents were ready to lay their city’s deep heartaches to rest. A rowdy crowd of tens of thousands braved the uncertain evening and overwhelmed the city’s airport to greet Ciudad Juarez’s returning Indios soccer team. In a weekend match, the local heroes defeated the Esmeraldas in the rival team’s hometown of Leon, Guanajuato. The game witnessed a riot, with police firing tear gas and helicopters buzzing fans.

The collective euphoria at the airport aside, the lyrics from an old Creedence Clearwater Revival that were not sang live in Ciudad Juarez as expected perhaps best captured the spirit of the times in the troubled border city:

I see the bad moon rising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin.
I see bad times today.

Don’t go around tonight,
Well, it’s bound to take your life
There’s a bad moon on the rise…


Bad Moon Rising: The Crisis in Ciudad Juarez - Newspaper Tree El Paso


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